Monday, July 2, 2012

Take a kid birding

I’ve borrowed this slogan from the Cape May Bird Observatory because it’s a great idea- adults who already love birding and getting outside can expose the next generation to the natural world by bringing along some kids on their next outing.  Or adults who know nothing about the outdoors can still venture out with some youth in tow.  In Maryland, the youth division of the Maryland Ornithological Society (YMOS) has been promoting this idea for years.  Under the leadership of Dr. Wayne Bell (former director of CES) and Mr. George Radcliffe, YMOS combines education, field trips and fun for interested teens throughout the state.  Each summer, YMOS joins with CES to run a unique week-long residential camp based at Washington College.  
The program is special in that the participants are both students and educators.  This year the program ran from June 25-29 and was composed of 2 adults and 8 students who spent the week both in the field and in the classroom.  Participants learned basic bird ID skills, the value of contributing their sightings to the eBird database and took field trips to local birding hot spots like Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware and Elk Neck State Park in Cecil County.
Dan Small, CRFRS field ecologist extracts a bird from a mist net.
On Friday, the last day of their program, they spent the morning with field ecologists Maren Gimpel and Dan Small in the Chester River Field Research Station’s restored grasslands.  They were excited to learn about the important scientific contributions of bird banding as well as to see birds up close.  They were also thrilled to see some birds they hadn’t seen yet during their week like Dickcissel and Northern Bobwhite.
Dozens of participants have now completed the workshop and other YMOS programming.  Among that group of alums is Amanda Spears, now a sophomore at the University of Vermont.  Since finding invaluable mentors through the Maryland birding community and YMOS in particular, Amanda has gone on to be one of the best young birders in the state and has decided to pursue a degree in wildlife biology.  She has been a volunteer at Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory (even getting class credit for her effort while at Queen Anne’s County High School), an intern in the CRFRS grasslands and is now an intern in charge of summer banding at FBBO.  About YMOS Amanda says "While my passion for birds and wild things blossomed in my backyard, close mentors such as George Radcliffe and Wayne Bell allowed me to jump the fence and explore migrations and natural wonders happening tens, hundreds, and even thousands of miles away from home. Without their support and shared experience, my knowledge base would be limited and I may not have pursued my deep interests in ecology and conservation. I thank all my mentors for helping me realize when I am happiest: in discovery with those I love."
Dan Small shows the YMOS group an American Robin.

Clearly, the exposure and support Amanda got from adults around her played an important role in her development as a young adult.  A mentor need not be a natural history expert to fill such a role for a child or teen.  Something as simple as taking a walk and working together to identify a wildflower can be a learning experience for both of you.   Who knows when or where you can inspire someone else to appreciate the world around them.
Information on the 2013 YMOS workshop and other activities for young birders and educators can be found at  Photos and stories about the goings on of CRFRS can be found at or at
Maren Gimpel is a field ecologist at the Chester River Field Research Station.

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